Monthly Archives: September 2008

As autumn begins…

higanbana blooming at Shokokuji temple The beautiful red O-higan-bana are blooming in the gardens of Shokukuji temple near my house. Known as “red spider lilies” in English, O-higan-bana translates literally as “the equinox flower” since it blooms suddenly but briefly, around the time of the Fall Equinox in late September. They spring up almost overnight in clumps and clusters throughout temple gardens and along the narrow paths through rice fields, a last showy gasp of fiery flowering color before the full onset of autumn.

Wendy Carroll helping to measure kimono widths The equinoxes, both of them — spring and summer, are national holidays in Japan. So Tuesday was a day off my normal work schedule and a chance to do a bit of catching up. Which means it was finally time to unbundle those bundles of haori that I bought a few weeks ago and prepare them to be posted on the Vintage Kimono section of my website. That involves quite a bit of work behind the scenes, so I was really grateful for the help of Wendy Carroll, good friend and dear heart, for spending part of her holiday helping me get started with the measuring and cataloging that needs to be done.

bundle of haoriWith a friend to help the task speed along, each colorful piece of this jumbled bundle was tagged and measured by the end of the day. Next comes the photography, trying to show the color, the details and making sure to identify any flaws. But making pictures of garments on a homemade scarecrow appealing must require a special talent, and thus far such talent has eluded me. But I will keep trying and soon, I hope, these lovely little kimono jackets will be listed for sale. blue haori kimono

An interesting Gaijin

Gaijin is the word used to describe foreigners in Japan. Literally translated, the word simply means “outsider”, but can be loaded with undertones depending on the attitude of the speaker. And just as in every other country, Japanese attitudes toward foreign immigrants run the political spectrum from conservative to liberal. Dai Media - preparing to film

Often our unfamiliarity with Japanese customs sometimes leaves people annoyed or shocked and sometimes just amused. But there is also curiosity: Why did we foreigners come here? Why do we stay? What do we like about our lives in Japan? And to address those questions, local television shows sometimes like to interview “an interesting gaijin“.

So all of that gives a little background of how I wound up taping a segment for Japanese TV this week. The show will air in mid-October, but the taping took place at my house yesterday afternoon.  Shown above are Hiroko Hayashi, who translated for me and the director, Takashi Matsushita as they prepared to begin taping. I admit to being quite nervous at the start but both Hiroko-san and Takashi-san were such wonderfully charming and delightful people that I soon relaxed. Sharing my love for Kyoto and talking about how much I have learned from Japanese design made conversation easy.

Computer embroidery is a highly developed commercial industry in Japan, but home embroidery machines don’t seem to be as popular here as they are in other countries. Perhaps that’s why the producers found my efforts to digitize so surprising. As he left, the director said he thought it was one of the better segments he had filmed and promised to send me a DVD of the finished segment. So I suppose in a few weeks, I’ll see how it turned out.


It’s been so hectic these last few weeks that I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone open my beautiful bundles of haori that have patiently waited for my attention for almost two weeks now. But hectic as its been, I still squeezed in the time to enjoy the Kazari exhibition at Kyoto City Museum before the show closes.

jomon potteryKazari is a Japanese word meaning “adornment” and this exhibition was devoted to the history of the Japanese penchant for adorning object surfaces with beautiful and intricate designs and then arranging those objects to adorn public and private spaces. The world of Japanese design is so often renowned for it’s brilliant minimalism and yet intricate elaborations of surface design also play a strong role as shown by the items selected for inclusion in this exhibition.

The elaborate Jomon pottery shown at left dates back some 10,000 years to the earliest hunter-gathering societies of pre-historic Japan. Although its peaked and coiled form may defy practicality and its uses remain uncertain, this vessel is but one of the hundreds of such archeological finds from that era.

Arita porcelain jarIn contrast, the Arita porcelain jar shown at right was produced several millenia later in the 18th century Edo period, yet it reflects an equal penchant for elaboration. In this case, however, the form has been simplified while intricately painted glazes provide the design interest.

With dozens of examples in each category, there is of course no way to reprise the entire exhibition for you here on my little blog — pottery and porcelain, saddles, swords and armor, lacquered boxes, hair ornaments and altar pieces, each decorated exquisitely with painstaking attention to the finest detail. But of course, my favorite pieces in any show are always the textiles. Below are a few of the exquisite little embroidered pouches. The two sets shown immediately below feature bamboo and chrysanthemum designs, respectively, would have been used by a man to carry his tobacco and pipe in elegance and style. Japanese tobacco pouches

embroidered Japanese purse The purse at right might have been carried to Tea ceremony. Notice the the tiny carved bird that forms the clasp in perfect complement to the embroidered swallow.

And of course, kimono. With so many many many gorgeous examples it was hard to choose a favorite. This one from the early 20th century features birds among bamboo in the snow, dyed and accented with embroidery.

embroidered kimono But the intent of this exhibition was more than simply a display of beautiful relics. Rather, the emphasis lay on the transformative nature of Kazari. In the preface to the catalog, the curator writes, “We are delighted to be able to present to you the timeless world of kazari, where functionality, beauty, the sacred and the secular collide to form an unexpected unity. The act of kazaru (adorning) momentarily lifts one’s spirits from the everyday realm. Efforts to adorn (kazaru) have at times revealed a surprising disregard for practicality but have proven to be a profound motivating force in Japanese culture.”

And even though I had an insufficient amount of time to spend surrounded by such beauty, I went away uplifted.

Sunday was a wonderful day

furoshiki wrapped bundles of newly purchased kimono Sunday was a wonderful day spent in my favorite way — pawing through colorful silks, inspecting and selecting vintage kimono at my dealer’s warehouse. At right you see my bundles of purchases, wrapped in the traditional way in extra large squares of fabric called furoshiki. (So much more charming than a shopping bag!) You can see one of my purchases in bright turquoise silk peaking out of the top of one of the bundles.

Sunday’s shopping spree focused on a particular part of a kimono ensemble,haori. These are kimono jackets or coats. Haori can be made of silk, silk cotton blend, or wool and feature patterns that are just as lovely as those on kimono themselves. But since haori are jackets, they are much shorter — ranging from hip to knee length — and they look great with western clothes. Awhile back, I gave a lovely haori to a girlfriend in San Francisco and heard that she paired it with black silk trousers to make an absolutely glorious outfit that she wears to the opera.

Sadly though, this is Monday morning and I must trot off to work. My bundles must remain bundled till later in the week when I can begin cataloging and photographing them to post on my vintage kimono site. As I start to post my new acquisitions for sale, I’ll e-mail notices to those who have requested it. If you’d like to be on that mailing list, click on the “Buy Vintage Kimono” link on the menu bar above, then click the link on the kimono page to sign up for e-mail notices. You’ll be among the first to know when these treasures go up for sale.